Ola and Uber – Reason for Clogged City Roads?

by Vargis.Khan

No I am not saying that it is all bad. There are definitely several positive sides to it as well. I have used Ola & Uber both a few times and on each occasion, I was thankful that this service was available so easily. Those were the days when my car was at the service station and if not for Ola and Uber, I would had to either board a crowded Delhi Bus, Metro or travel in an auto in Delhi on a July Day. At such occasions, I am thankful for Ola & Uber but then on rest of the days, I wish they would all just disappear somewhere.

And it is not just me, it is the case with everyone who has to drive on crowded Delhi roads everyday on a regular basis; either to work or for any other personal reason. So what really went wrong and how something that was to be a big convenience turned in to a nuisance?

I know I am putting forth this argument using Delhi as an example (because I live here); but I believe same is applicable for other Indian metro cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru as well. Go back a decade or maybe just 5 years; and traffic on Delhi roads meant morning and evening hours; when people would commute to work and back home. Fast forward to today and “rush hour” in Delhi has practically become every hour. No matter when you go or where you go, traffic crawls and traffic lights are getting longer and longer each day. Sometimes you may even need a full one hour to cover a distance of about 4-5 kilometers in Delhi in a car, that is how bad it has started to get.

I remember back in February of 2017, all the taxis went off the road; because drivers I believe were asking for more or better incentives. Whatever their dispute was, for me it was a blessing because driving around in Delhi suddenly became easier those days. With all the yellow number plates gone, congestion was less and traffic lights shorter. Even the newspapers and news channels also started to report the same as there was a significant decrease in pollution level as well due to this strike.

I know that Delhi was never really easy to commute in; and it was crowded even before the launch of these two app-based taxi companies. There are anyways way too many cars in the city and the nearby NCR region. But then the fact is that most of these cars gets driven only from one point to another, for a small duration. Some of them remain parked for days altogether; seeing the road just once in a few days. People who drive every day to work will bring their cars out for an hour in the morning and then in evening; rest of the time it remains parked. But with a taxis, they are all out there on the roads all the time and hence the increased traffic and pollution.

With no regulation to keep the number in check, more and more taxis get registered in Delhi every day.  It has become a job opportunity for people migrating to the city; as well as an investment or passive income source for a lot of people.

Both Ola and Uber have tie ups with car manufacturers like Maruti, Mahindra, Toyota, Honda etc. So for any one coming to Delhi to look for employment opportunities; all they need is to arrange a commercial driving license (easy to get); a police verification (easy again); about Rs. 20,000 to 30,000 in cash (not too much) and Voila, a brand new cab is yours.  In cases like this, the app based taxi company issues a letter to the financing company; stating that the vehicle is getting leased in order to be used as a taxi with their set up. It thus assures them of a timely EMI after which, any bank will be ready to finance the deal.  Same is the case for people buying these cars as a source of passive income while they are themselves in some other job.

As per a report, close to 1,00,000 vehicles were registered in Delhi in 2015-2016; just for the purpose off being used as a cab. This number may not look that great in a city that is already filled with millions of cars; but then these 1,00,000 vehicles are being bought only for the purpose of staying on the road; for as long as they can. These 1,00,000 vehicles will be on the roads for 8 to 10 hours every day; whereas private cars come out only for an hour on two and that too not daily.

This is in turn becoming a problem for both the existing cab drivers and other people as well. The increased number of cabs means decreased business for existing drivers; due to which several of them are already struggling to pay for the month EMIs. As the business grew, both OLA and UBER have withdrawn several incentives that they initially offered to their drivers a few years ago. Several of these cabs remain on the roads for 12 to 14 hours a day; and still the drivers are trying hard to make the ends meet. Such long hours also mean a tired person on the wheel; and hence increases the risk of accidents and deaths due to negligence.

For all other people, it is a becoming a problem in several ways. Traffic crawls on Delhi roads all day long; and even for a short distance, you will need to ensure that you start at least an hour early. Traffic lights are getting longer and wait time is becoming crazy. Parking spaces are becoming rare and are mostly occupied by cabs. Go to any popular spot or a large company’s office and the road in front will be completely filled with cabs waiting for a customer. With limited parking space, these cabs have started to remain parked on the roads; and hence occupying and blocking entire lanes.

An even sinister problem is the behavior of these drivers. Most of them belong to small villages and get their driving license by paying off some agent. They treat the roads as if they are still driving around in their village. Their eyes remain fixated on their phones while trying to work through the routes on GPS. Focus is never truly on the road and they keep shuffling their gaze between the traffic ahead and GPS. More than often you would find them talking on the phone, either to a customer or just chitchatting. They will park just about anywhere, apply brakes or take turns as they would wish. Majority of them are nothing more than nuisance on the road with no driving or traffic sense.

Ola and Uber: Bigger Problem than Solution?

How can this be rectified? The first step government needs to take is to limit the number of cabs a company can run. This will be beneficial for both general public and its existing drivers. Even the Feb 2017 strike of the drivers was regarding incentives and stopping Ola & Uber from allowing more taxis. Car financing must be tough. A driver should also submit proof of municipal parking space while applying for a cab. Finally, a law has to be now brought in place to keep the increasing population of our country in check which ironically no one is talking about still; even after China has taken steps in that direction.

This is just my opinion on matter. As I admitted, there are several benefits of these cabs and no one can deny that. But is clogging the roads and finally taking the city to a point when there is just no more space left really the answer to a better public transport service? Please feel free to share your opinion on the matter either in the comments section below or at our Community Forum.

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